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National Teachers’ Union Fears Competition, Locks Down Local Unions Looking for an Exit

The recent trend of local unions cutting ties with their national affiliate (the National Education Association) has prompted the NEA to lock local unions in with new rules, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial by Americans for Fair Treatment Director Keith Williams.

Two new bylaws passed by the NEA the beginning of July impose new hurdles and penalties on locals looking to exit the national union. Williams, a former teacher, is not surprised the NEA is imposing such restrictions, as large local unions “are slipping through their fingers across the country.”

Most teachers I know value their local union, but many are fed up with the bureaucratic, hyperpolitical and remote NEA. The national union has long maintained an all-or-nothing approach to membership. Under a strictly enforced system called “unified dues,” a teacher who joins an NEA-affiliated local is automatically enrolled in the state and national unions. An individual teacher can decline to join, but a local that wants to leave has a harder time. The new restrictions are an effort to bar the exits completely.

The first requires locals to give 60 days’ notice of plans to disaffiliate, allowing the NEA to gear up a defense. Locals must also give NEA officials time to speak at a membership meeting. A two-thirds majority is required to leave the national union, not the simple majority required to affiliate in the first place.

Teachers in Minnesota who join the local union automatically affiliate with the state union and two national affiliates—the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Dues revenue is divided between all unions, with the bulk of the revenue going toward underwriting the political clout of the state and national unions. The local union, who is responsible for most union benefits such as counsel on workplace issues and collective bargaining, receives what is left over. In Minnesota, less than a quarter of teachers’ dues go to the local union.

NEA’s second restriction allows the NEA to establish trusteeships over local unions.

Trusteeship permits the NEA to invalidate any attempt to disaffiliate and to conduct what amounts to hostile behavior—directing the local’s books, funds, actions and officers.

In the past five years, at least 11 local teachers’ unions have separated from the NEA and its state affiliates, according to Williams. Independence offers locals transparency and accountability, along with low overhead—areas the state and national affiliates don’t deliver on.

As the battle over teachers’ hard-earned money continues, there is an upcoming opportunity for educators in Minnesota to pay nothing to the state and national affiliates who are too focused on non-education issues. In September, teachers can choose to resign or “opt-out” of Education Minnesota and its affiliates. They can then send voluntary donations to the local association as a thank you for the collective bargaining services the local provides. This solves the “free-rider” claims used to attack non-members (despite these claims being disingenuous) and keeps the money local. To find out more, visit EducatedTeachersMN.com.

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